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Is "Right to Work" Right for W.Va.?

Interim meetings at the state capitol are usually laid back. Lawmakers attend their meetings and sometimes meet with a spare group of lobbyists and constituents.

Sunday, however, the House Government Organization Committee Room was overflowing. Men and women in union t-shirts filled the audience seats, the hallway and even the stairwells outside. What drew the crowd? A proposed piece of legislation that would make West Virginia a Right to Work state.

Dozens of union members attended a joint committee meeting Sunday making their opposition for Right to Work legislation clear.

For two hours, the Joint Committee on the Judiciary met to discuss possible Right to Work legislation and how it might affect West Virginia.

Right to Work laws prohibit certain types of agreements between labor unions and employers. The most commonly used example would prohibit a union from collecting dues from people in a workplace who do not wish to be part of the union.

Currently twenty-five states in the U.S. have Right to Work laws including Virginia, Tennessee, Florida, and Michigan.

Even though union members turned out by the dozens Sunday in opposition, Senate Majority Leader, Mitch Carmichael of Jackson County believes Right to Work laws actually make unions stronger.

“This is not an anti-union bill at all, Right to Work," Carmichael said, "It does not in any way inhibit a person’s ability to join a union, to support it financially; all it does is give the individual the choice, the choice, the freedom to choose whether they want to be a part of the union.”

But Kenny Perdue disagrees. Perdue is the President of the West Virginia AFL-CIO and says Right to Work laws have hurt not just union workers, but all workers in the states that have approved them.

“There is a lot of evidence that a worker will make $6,000 less on a year in a Right to Work state," Perdue noted, "There is evidence out there at the Bureau of Labor Statistics that an individual that works in a Right to Work state is 54.4 percent more likely to get hurt or killed on a job. We look at other states that like Kansas, Wisconsin, and Minnesota and they’re not doing well at all.”

Senator Herb Snyder, a Democrat from Jefferson County, says there isn’t enough evidence that a Right to Work law would help West Virginia progress economically.

“There’s absolutely no guarantee there would be any benefit whatsoever. That clearly, analytically showed that there are so many factors and drawing in keeping businesses, topography, age, education levels, and everything else,” Snyder explained, "It was very clear that wages go down, go down significantly statewide. We’re already second from the bottom, and why we’re having a discussion about lowering wages is just…perplexes me.”

Senate Majority Leader Carmichael says the laws will not lower wages in the state, but instead promote job growth. He says he’ll support passing a Right to Work law.

“What’s good for everyone for the majority of people is what we’re interested in," Carmichael said, "and we hope that airing this issue out and discussing it in more detail will provide an education to the entire population that shows Right to Work gives another tool in the economic development box in West Virginia to keep our families together, to provide jobs and hope and opportunity for our citizens.”

Right to Work, like last session’s debate over prevailing wage, is likely to be at the forefront of controversial issues during the 2016 session.

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